Pet Boarding & Daycare

How to Start a Fight with a Client in Just One Sentence

How to Start a Fight with a Client in Just One Sentence

By Louise S. Dunn

If you have ever attended a meeting or read a book on client service, you expect the material to be about what you should be doing to deliver excellent client service in your business. The trouble is, all those ideas sound good on paper, but never seem to get implemented once you are back at work and dealing with an angry client. 

Whatever happened to your plans to implement those great client service ideas? They likely ended up shoved in a desk drawer while you spent your time putting out fires.

Instead of telling the team what they should be doing, why not talk to them about what they are doing—what they are doing to start fights with the clients. Once the team stops doing the wrong behaviors, they can concentrate on all those great ideas of what they should be doing to kick up the service provided to clients.

The following are some common statements—many roll off the tongue as an easy script for awkward moments, some are deliberately said to let the client know his/her place—but all of them kill your client service and make a client feel as if you are trying to make them angry and start a fight. 

“Our Policy Is….”

This statement is an easy way out of a sticky situation. Instead of trying to solve the issue at hand, it is far easier to fall back on a bureaucratic standard operating procedure (SOP). In reality, the team member saying this to a client either a) does not understand how to communicate procedures to a situation correctly, or b) is ignoring the fact that the SOP does not apply to the situation. 

What the client hears is, “No, No, and No. I don’t care what your problem is, I follow policies.” How much better would it be if the team member tells the client they understand the concern or issue (and reiterate the problem), and the business has steps in place to provide the best care or service because it is for the health and/or safety of the pet or client? Instead, the team member jumps to “our policy is” rather than educating or informing the client. The client does not understand (they just hear “no”), and a conflict ensues.

“We Have Been Really Busy”

The fighting words here are, “We are not accessible or flexible.” How many times have you heard a client tell the receptionist that no one ever called them back, only to hear your team jump to defend themselves and say to the client that everyone has been really busy? What about a client attempting to make a reservation, but the business is “really busy” and cannot accommodate their pet? 

Perhaps the business has some SOPs that are causing problems—only a manager can approve an add-on to the schedule, or we can’t do “B” until we do “A.” Check for barriers that may be causing your team to respond to clients on the spot and killing their ability to act upon a client service request. 

There are other phrases that can be used instead of “really busy” that are informative to the client while still making the client feel as though their concern is important. In the end, it does not matter how “busy” you are if you ignore the interests of the pet owner. They will simply find someone not so busy.

“Press 1 for…Press 2 for…Repeat These Choices”

How easy is it for a client to do business with you? One metric to check this is called the “Client Effort Score.” This assesses how much effort a client must exert to do business with you. How many hoops does the client have to jump through to make an appointment, update the pet’s information or even get a copy of the pet’s service history? SOPs and technology are great until they take common sense or human interaction out of the equation.

Be sure that your team is not over-relying on technology to the point of removing the human element from client interactions. Is the management software always correct and the client wrong? Check how the team sounds when they answer the phone or greet a client. When a client has an issue, does the receptionist sound like a phone message (“you must do this, then that before we can see you”)? Does the team act as if the client is an interruption to their day, or is the team happy to see the client? Does the team sound mechanical, or are they personable? 

“That’s Not My Job”

This statement is usually followed by, “I’ll have to get….I’ll see if someone is around who can…I’ll leave a message for….” All the client hears is that his/her concern cannot be solved—and that you have incompetent people working at the business. 

The first step to deal with this statement: Is it really their job, and are they merely trying to avoid doing it? The second step: Is there an SOP dictating whose job it is, and is that SOP making it difficult to service clients properly? Third step: Should it be this person’s job (or everyone’s job), and thus the training procedure needs reviewed and/or updated? 

Dealing with “not my job” involves looking at it from a couple of angles before making any changes. It may also mean that it is time to look at your culture. If a client says there is poop on the front walk, does the receptionist say, “It’s not my job,” and immediately calls the kennel staff, then ignores repeated reports because it is the kennel staff’s job to clean up the outside walk? Culture can be killing client service and the perception of care your clients have about the business every time they are faced with the “not my job” reply.

What Isn’t Said: “I’m sorry”

Why are we, in general, so afraid to say, “I’m sorry” or apologize for a service error? It seems as if an admission of guilt will open the door to some massive legal headache when it could easily open the door to service recovery. Rather than admitting guilt, we kill a relationship by arguing with a client and trying to put the blame everywhere and anywhere other than on ourselves or our team.

Apologies can reduce anger and improve communication with the client—which, in turn, may reduce the risk of legal claims. Teach the team the right way to apologize and how to offer corrections for errors rather than excuses. 

Recovering From Wrong Statements

Perception is about the experience; the client’s experience at your business. Your business should work at creating critical impressions and experiences for your clients1. Although you are a team, all it takes is one individual on your team to fail to deliver to your client, and a lousy service report can quickly surface on Yelp or Google.

Turn around wrong statements by examining client interactions that went wrong. Tear the interaction apart into steps; steps just before the statement, during it and after it. Map out the steps and look for opportunities to create value, remove unnecessary steps, re-sequence steps for convenience or educate the team on overlooked options2.

Schedule a brainstorming session with your team. Ask them to jot down statements they hear that seem to get clients riled up. Have the team come up with alternative statements. For instance: Instead of saying, “It’s not my job,” let the team discuss how to tell a client they are not the best person to take care of the request and how they will redirect the request to the best person for a quick resolution. Instead of saying, “Our policy is,” tell the client what you can do with an explanation. 

As you conduct your brainstorming sessions, consider these tips from the American Management Association3 as your team develops great phrases:

  1. Keep your confidence (This is where roleplaying may help)
  2. Start with a phrase of regret (I’m sorry….”)
  3. Then explain (Do not quote the policy, explain the reason)
  4. Next, use a positive phrase (Show enthusiasm with what you can do for the client)
  5. Offer empathy (Show the client you understand their position)
  6. Again, use a positive, helpful reply to solving the issue at hand
  7. Watch your body language and facial expression (confident, concerned, understanding)

In some cases, you may be able to develop your own “Service Recover SOP”—identifying specific triggers, such as words or situations, and how the team can respond to the triggers—thus initiating an immediate service recovery rather than waiting to pass it off to a manager to be addressed at a later time. 


1. Lee, F. If Disney Ran Your Hospital. Second River Healthcare Press. 2004.

2. Bettencourt, L., and Ulwick, A. The Customer-Centered Innovation Map. Harvard Business Review. May 2008. pp. 109-114.

3. Everson, R. How to Say No to a Customer. American Management Association. 2013 December. Retrieved from